The Irish Times records quite a few sightings of unidentified flying objects over Ireland (including one by an Aer Lingus pilot, Gordon Pendleton, at the controls of a Viscount en route to Brussels in 1962) but very few, if any, have been as beautifully and vividly described as this account, from William Turner, Compleat History of Most Remarkable Providences (London, 1697), of an event that happened near Killenaule, in the County of Tipperary, on the 2nd March 1678:-
“At Poinstown, in the County of Tipperary, were seen divers strange and prodigious apparitions. On Sunday in the evening several gentlemen and others, after named, walked forth in the fields, and the Sun going down, and appearing somewhat bigger than usual, they discoursed about it, directing their eyes towards the place where the Sun set; when one of the company observed in the air, near the place where the Sun went down, an Arm of a blackish blue colour, with a ruddy complection’d Hand at one end, and at the other end a cross piece with a ring fasten’d to the middle of it, like one end of an anchor, which stood still for a while, and then made northwards, and so disappeared.
Next, there appeared at a great distance in the air, from the same part of the sky, something like a Ship coming towards them; and it came so near that they could distinctly perceive the masts, sails, tacklings, and men; she then seem’d to tack about, and sail’d with the stern foremost, northwards, upon a dark smooth sea, which stretched itself from south-west to north-west. Having seem’d thus to sail some few minutes she sunk by degrees into the sea, her stern first; and as she sunk they perceived her men plainly running up the tacklings in the forepart of the Ship, as it were to save themselves from drowning.
Then appeared a Fort, with somewhat like a Castle on the top of it; out of the sides of which, by reason of some clouds of smoak and a flash of fire suddenly issuing out, they concluded some shot to be made. The Fort then was immediately divided in two parts, which were in an instant transformed into two exact Ships, like the other they had seen, with their heads towards each other. That towards the south seem’d to chase the other with its stem [stern?] foremost, northwards, till it sunk with its stem first, as the first Ship had done; the other Ship sail’d some time after, and then sunk with its head first. It was observ’d that men were running upon the decks of these two Ships, but they did not see them climb up, as in the last Ship, excepting one man, whom they saw distinctly to get up with much haste upon the very top of the Bowsprit of the second Ship as they were sinking. They supposed the two last Ships were engaged, and fighting, for they saw the likeness of bullets rouling upon the sea, while they were both visible.
Then there appear’d a Chariot, drawn with two horses, which turn’d as the Ships had done, northward, and immediately after it came a strange frightful creature, which they concluded to be some kind of serpent, having a head like a snake, and a knotted bunch or bulk at the other end, something resembling a snail’s house. This monster came swiftly behind the chariot and gave it a sudden violent blow, then out of the chariot leaped a Bull and a Dog, which follow’d him [the bull], and seem’d to bait him. These also went northwards, as the former had done, the Bull first, holding his head downwards, then the Dog, and then the Chariot, till all sunk down one after another about the same place, and just in the same manner as the former.
These meteors being vanished, there were several appearances like ships and other things. The whole time of the vision lasted near an hour, and it was a very clear and calm evening, no cloud seen, no mist, nor any wind stirring. All the phenomena came out of the West or Southwest, and all moved Northwards; they all sunk out of sight much about the same place. Of the whole company there was not any one but saw all these things, as above-written, whose names follow:
Mr. Allye, a minister, living near the place.
Lieutenant Dunsterville, and his son.
Mr. Grace, his son-in-law.
Mr. Dwine, his brother.
Mr. Christopher Hewelson.
Mr. Richard Foster.
Mr. Adam Hewelson.
Mr. Bates, a schoolmaster.
Her maiden daughter.
Mr. Dwine’s daughter.
Mrs. Grace, her daughter.”
Nowadays people might look askance at a Reverend who witnessed this sort of thing (what had he been imbibing?) but witnessing the above event doesn’t seem to have done the Reverend Allye any harm; he was promoted to his own living shortly thereafter. And why not, indeed? I love the idea of a magical battle of the sea in the air. And for those salt-water people like me, never happy far from the cry of seabirds, perhaps the occasional ship in the sky would make living in the middle of the country more bearable. If only the likes of all this could be guaranteed to happen more often than five hundred years or so…